The Mysterious Bell-ringing at Owlarton Grange by Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), twelfth serial illustration for William Harrison Ainsworth's Life and Adventures of Mervyn Clitheroe, Part 6 (January 1858), Book the Second, Chapter VIII, "Of the Mysterious Bell-Ringing at Owlarton Grange," facing page 192. Steel etching, 10.2 cm high by 15.9 cm wide, framed. Source: Ainsworth's Works (1882), originally published in the sixth serial instalment by George Routledge and Sons, London. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: The Comic Gothic

Emboldened by the cessation of the terrifying appeals, the women-servants now ventured to come forward, and planted themselves beneath the row of bells the better to examine them; but they were sent screaming away in an instant, as the wire was observed to shake, and the foremost bell began to tinkle. Its lead was soon followed by a second — a third — and so on, till the whole row was again in motion. Then ensued another concert as astounding as the first; and during its continuance. Mr. Hazilrigge was thrown into transports of fury as outrageous as those he had previously exhibited; but no entreaties of his sister, or of Cuthbert Spring, could move him from the spot. After continuing to peal in this violent manner for full five minutes, the bells again stopped. The sound did not die away by degrees, but appeared at its loudest, when it was checked with startling suddenness.

Amid the silence that prevailed, Mr. Hazilrigge shouted to the butler to bing him some implement to cut the wires.

Mr. Ponder displayed great promptitude in executing his maser's orders. He disappeared for a moment, and then returned with a pair of pruning-shears with long handles. At he same time old Finch brought a step-ladder, and Rivers another lighted candle. Seizing the shears impatiently, Mr. Hazilrigge caused he ladder to be placed just under the bells, and aided by the butler, who held a light for him, mounted the steps.

"This will stop it, I think," he exclaimed, looking round triumphantly. "This will stop it," he repeated, applying the points of the shears to the wires. [Chapter VIII, 'Of The Mysterious Bell-Ringing at Owlarton Grange," page 192.]

Commentary: Lost in the Dark Plate

Whereas the sole dark plate which Phiz developed for David Copperfield, The River (August 1850), enabled the illustrator to evoke a suitably brooding atmosphere as the graphic context for Martha's attempted suicide, and the first of the dark plates for Mervyn Clitheroe, The Duel on Crab Tree Green (December 1857) similarly employs chaiaroscuro in the partially-hidden full moon's highlighting the bole of the scathed oak and the field of combat, the present example must have struck the reader of 1858 as singularly ineffective, an experiment gone awry, in that the figures are half-lost in the darkness. The dark plate, depicting the turmoil at the Grange which the playful spirit creates by jangling all the house's bells at once, unfortunately obscures the figures without establishing an eerie mood. Phiz employs this technique with considerable frequency from this point onwards in the continued serial run of Mervyn Clitheroe, but not all of the plates are as successful in complementing the text as The Duel on Crab Tree Green.

The visit to Owlarton Grange occurs as it were by accident as Mervyn, searching for Sissy Culcheth, accepts the invitation of the owner, Mr. Hazilrigge ("Old Hazy"), whom he runs into at the Stamford Arms. Mr. Hazilrigge assigns his guest the haunted room, setting in motion a series of events in which the servants and the family are terrified by the inexplicable ringing of the bells that signify the occupant of a room requires a servant's attendance. Frustrated and furious rather than merely terrified, Old Hazy decides to put a stop to the work of the playful spirit by cutting the lines to the bells. In the Phiz dark plate, Cuthbert Spring and Miss Hazelrigge watch with concerned expressions (right of centre), and Mervyn and Ora Doveton, his niece, watch with a more detached interest as Old Hazy, assisted by the butler, Mr. Ponder (holding the ladder) and the head servant, Mr. Rivers (holding the candle, left of centre) as a pair of maids retreat in fear. Unperturbed, the owner of Owlarton Grange prepares to cut the lines with the garden shears provided by the butler. Phiz's description of Old hazy is consistent with that Ainsworth provides in the previous chapter:

Mr. Hazilrigge was between sixty and seventy, but had still a hale look, and though very odd in mannr and grotesque in attire, had decidedly the air of a gentleman. In person he was rather comical, being short and paunchy, while his round shoulders tended to diminish his stature. On the ridge of his large hooked nose rested a pair of massive silver spectacles, through which glimmered eyes the most extraordinary I ever beheld — large, light-blue, projecting, but dim. In a word, the old gentleman was moon-eyed. He wore his hair in powder, brushed back from the forehead, and tied behind in a long and respectable pigtail. His attire, of the formal cut of George the Third's day, might have been made about the beginning of the present century, or at the end of he last, and consisted of a long blue coat, cut away at the breast and skirts. . . . [Book the Second, Chapter VII, "I am introduced to an eccentric elderly gentleman, familiarly styled Old Hazy; who, though no conjurer himself, is much addicted to necromantic lore, and has a very enchanting niece," page 177]

If Phiz would not have readers take the haunting of a poltergeist seriously, the reader should be prepared for rational — if somewhat improbable — explanation: Mervyn discovers the scientific Dr. Hooker, an old friend of Mr. Hazilrigge, has attached the wires of the bells to a galvanic battery to effect a haunting of the old grange.

Scanned image, colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose, as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image, and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.] Click on the image to enlarge it.


Ainsworth, William Harrison. The Life and Adventures of Mervyn Clitheroe (1851-2; 1858). Illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ('Phiz'). London: Routledge, 1882.

Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Vann, J. Don. "William Harrison Ainsworth. Mervyn Clitheroe, twelve parts in eleven monthly installments, December 1851-March 1852, December 1857-June 1858." New York: MLA, 1985. 27-28

Last modified 23 November 2018